Manchester City have blown teams away in the Premier League this season. Their record of 16 wins on the bounce is an incredible achievement and it would be unfair to credit this purely to the fact they’ve been the biggest spenders in the league for the past three consecutive years.
The money during the Sheikh Mansour era obviously plays a part, as does the players that Pep Guardiola inherited, like David Silva, Sergio Aguero and Kevin de Bruyne, but the Spanish manager has implemented a style of football that has been totally overpowering for essentially every opponent they’ve faced.
City might have needed a penalty shoot out to beat Wolves and several injury time goals to earn victory in the league, but they played to the final whistle and finished the games with a win.
Yet while the praise has been vast and well deserved, there have been several pundits and fans hailing this City side as already the greatest we’ve ever seen in the Premier League, which is just baffling.
They will certainly win the league this season but will they win it three years on the trot?
Will they be able to beat the best teams in Europe as well?
Will they win any further silverware to go with their title?
Until we have affirmative answers to those questions, it’s nonsense to suggest they are above the greatest United, Chelsea or Arsenal teams, who have won doubles and trebles.
Or Sir Alex Ferguson’s best teams that dominated not for 18 games, but for years.
Guardiola has City playing excellent football and they’ve beaten all the ‘top’ teams in the league this season. That says a lot about the gulf in quality, between their squad and style of play, and everyone else.
But does that make them the greatest side ever? We’ll get a better idea of how good this City team is when they play against Europe’s top teams in the Champions League this season, as the best teams in England aren’t anything special.
United are the second best team in England but if you compare their starting XI with title winning teams and the closest challengers in the late 1990’s and 2000’s, they’re nowhere near as good.
In the 2001-02 season, for example, United finished third in the league and were 10 points behind champions Arsenal. Yet David de Gea is probably the only current United player who would get in that first team in place of Fabien Barthez.
Eric Bailly would, over Laurent Blanc or Ronny Johnsen too, yet considering he isn’t playing for United because of his long-term injury, he isn’t contributing more this season than those defenders were that season.
The Champions League will be a good measure, definitely. But when you look at the Arsenal side we had to finish above in 99 and the teams we had to beat in the CL/FA Cup, you shouldn’t mention this City side in the same paragraph, let alone sentence.
— Scott Patterson (@R_o_M) December 17, 2017
In 1998-99, United played 63 games in all competitions, and in a period of 10 days at the end of that gruelling season beat Tottenham Hotspur to win the league, beat Newcastle to win the FA Cup and beat Bayern Munich to win the Champions League.
On their way to lifting the FA Cup, United knocked out Middlesbrough (who finished 9th in the league that season), Liverpool (7th), Chelsea (3rd) and Arsenal (2nd).
To win the Champions League, they first had to qualify from a group that contained Bayern Munich – who went on to win the German league that season – and Barcelona, who were crowned champions of Spain too.
They then faced Inter Milan and Juventus in the next rounds. Having never won a game on Italian soil before, United beat Inter at home and drew away, before drawing with Juve at home and winning 3-2 away after going two goals down within the first 11 minutes.
We are all familiar with that night at the Nou Camp when they beat Bayern Munich and in doing so ensured they were unbeaten in the competition that they were winners of.
When you consider that both Paul Scholes and Roy Keane were both suspended for the final, it makes their victory all the more remarkable.
That season, United beat teams containing truly world-class players to win the treble.
Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo, Denis Berkgkamp, Patrick Kluivert, Edgar Davids, Rivaldo, Luis Figo and Alan Shearer are among the players on the teams who lost out at the hands of United in 1998-99.
When you look at the United side in 2007-08, who were midway through their three in a row of title wins, who finished above a brilliant Chelsea side to win the league and European Cup double, you’re seeing one of the all-time greats. Wayne Rooney, who, granted, is more than a little biased, claimed this was the best Premier League team last week.
In the 2008 Champions League final, United were faced with a midfield consisting of Claude Makelele, Frank Lampard, Michael Ballack and Michael Essien. No disrespect to Ander Herrera or Nemanja Matic intended, but they’re not in the same league.
Would any of the players at the second best club in the country now get in to those United or Chelsea sides?
How many of City’s current team would get in United’s of 2007-09 or 1998-99? That’s up for debate but the red shirts would certainly outnumber the blue.
United supporters should be wary of telling City to come back when they’ve won the treble or three titles in a row though, because Liverpool made that mistake when revealing their banner addressed to Eric Cantona and United telling them to do the same when they had won 18 titles.
The idea that United could ever match that, at least without Liverpool extending their tally by a further 10 or more first, seemed ludicrous at the time. United now have 20 and laud it over their scouse rivals every chance they get.
None of this is to suggest that City can’t go on to be named in the same breath as the great United teams of the past, or Chelsea and Arsenal sides, but to claim they’re at that level after 18 games is farcical.
The greatest teams win trophies and beat the best to do so. As yet, Guardiola’s City can’t claim to have done either.
The excessive adulation that City are receiving may well be deserved at the end of the season, or next season, but it’s impossible to measure them accurately against the best teams just yet.